The Atlanta Hawks enter Game 4 with an opportunity. Win and they will take a commanding lead back to Atlanta for Game 5, lose and they will return home having lost the momentum against a hungry opponent.
So far slow starts have been the theme of the series. Atlanta jumped out to big leads and rode them to victories in Games 1 & 2. Boston turned the tables in Game 3 and led 37-20 at the end of the first quarter. That lead would grow to as many as 20 points. The Hawks fought back at one point to take the lead in the fourth but expended a lot of energy and faltered down the stretch.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens made some adjustments to his starting lineup prior to Game 3 replacing Marcus Smart and Jared Sullinger with Evan Turner and Jonas Jerebko. Neither shot the ball particularly well in the game but the move did open up space for point guard Isaiah Thomas who finished with a career-best 42 points.
Lineup changes aren't in order for Atlanta but some adjustments are. The Hawks need to focus on keeping Thomas out of the paint and out of transition. Atlanta is a team that likes to play fast but in a lot of ways, that plays into the Celtics hands. It is important that the Hawks control the pace and push it when it is appropriate to them. Taking care of the basketball is key to slowing the Celtics who have a difficult time scoring against Atlanta when their defense is set.
Another area to focus on for Game 4 is Boston's three-point shooting. The Celtics finished Game 3 11 for 32. In the two games prior to that they were a combined 16 for 63 which was a lot closer to their season average. Conversely, Atlanta was just 9 for 36 from three-point range in Game 3.
When you look at Game 3 as a hole, there are some positives for Atlanta. Thomas was the focal point with Amir Johnson chipping in a positive contribution inside. Jerebko, Turner and Jae Crowder were a combined 12 for 37 from the field. Atlanta dug itself out of a 20 point deficit on the road despite getting a minimal contribution offensively from Paul Millsap and Al Horford who combined for just 16 points.
Millsap is averaging just 8.7 points per game in the series and shooting just 31 percent from the field. He has been the team's anchor on the defensive end of the floor but the Hawks need to find a way to get him involved early on the offensive end. Boston has done a good job of flooding the paint with extra defenders whenever Millsap has the ball. Millsap needs to recognize that and make plays for others to help open up his own offense.
Game Date/Time: Sunday, April 24, 6 p.m. ET
Location: TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
TV: TNT, Fox Sports Southeast
Radio: 92.9 "The Game" FM